The Magnificent Seven have saddled up. But can they break the party system? Perhaps. All party leaders should start thinking about their mortality.

18 Feb 2019 at 15:15

Well, it has finally happened. The Magnificent Seven have finally saddled up and set off to redeem themselves by protecting a little town taken over by bandits. And one line from the 1960 movie couldn’t have put the problem of Corbyn any more succinctly, “this man needs to be buried soon. He’s not turning into any nosegay”. But that’s about as far as analogies go, save that Chuka Umuna does bear an uncanny resemblance to Yul Brennar, whose job before acting was a trapeze artist in a circus.

Bravery, in politics, is a very over rated word. But these guys really are amazingly courageous. They will be spat at, vilified and put under terrible pressure. Corbyn will sing from the Momentum playbook. He will shake his head more in sorrow than in anger and ask his party to behave in a civilised way and then he will unleash his dogs of war. Social Media will turn into an abattoir of such primal hatred that it will disgust the nation. Corbyn will pretend that he was neither their nor involved. I really do hope that they and their families are given police protection.

I suppose that it wasn’t by accident that TIG was launched the day after a poll indicated that 59% would consider voting for a centre party. Whether they will or not depends on the message. President Jeb Bartlett of the West Wing was of the view that every campaign had to be defined in ten words. Perhaps, “we’ll tell you what you may not want to hear”, might be a start. But just being “we are none of the above” won’t cut the mustard. The Tories would be wise not to mock them and welcome them to join the party of One Nation. Under Cameron or Major this wouldn’t have worked, but could at least have sounded plausible. But from a party which has been hijacked by a group whose antics resemble drinking up time at the Star Wars bar it is nothing more than a sick joke. And there will be a nervousness that unless the ERGS are sent back up to the attic behind lock and key the party will suffer the same fate as Labour.

Will TIG break the mould of British politics? It’s too early to say. But they could. Everyone forgets that in the 1983 election the SDP came within two points and just under 500,000 votes from Labour. But our electoral system screwed them down to 23 seats. Where they messed with old two party loyalties is that they split the vote destroying Labour heartlands and giving Thatcher a massive, but not quite Blairian majority.

Some say that the old party system is redundant. Maybe it is. Or maybe it will mutate into something a little more attractive and relevant. But at the moment I haven’t got a clue how it could happen or work. Much depends on what happens to Brexit. I suspect that the majority want Parliament to agree to an arrangement that keeps us in some sort of alignment with the EU that doesn’t wreck the economy. Yet there is a minority to whom Brexit is the most important issue in their life, overshadowing the economy and the NHS. They see politicians patronising them and betraying their vote. Then there is the minority who see Brexit as won on the basis of lies and deceit. They want another referendum. These three positions are irreconcilable although I would be surprised if there wasn’t a great sigh of relief if May or her successor was able to achieve the first option.

So why do people vote for parties? I wish I knew the answer. Habit? How the family traditionally votes? To a limited extent class. But more probably ‘what’s in it for me and my family’?

Many years ago when Macmillan was at the height of his popularity he sent a memo to his chief policy advisor. “The middle classes seem to be asking me for something. Could you jot down on some notepaper what it is?”

So what do people want? I know what they expect. That they will be ignored. There lies the challenge. And the clear and present danger.

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